Identity Resolution

Resolving fragmented customer data

Isn’t it strange that you probably wouldn’t recognise your best customers if they walked past you in the street? 

Sure, you may have a generalised concept of a fictional character you identify as your ‘best customer’ that’s probably based on elements of actual customer data, but have you thought about each one as an individual? Their experience, their journey? 

Your best customers love your brand. They love your products, your ethos and most importantly, they love how their association with you makes them feel. But they also behave differently to other customers.

They’re visiting your physical shop for shoes, but your web store for accessories. They like the pop-up boutique in Summer, but your Amazon store in Winter. They’re shopping across sites and devices, from home and work, at all hours of the day and night. In your data, they probably look like multiple customers and therefore fit into multiple segments – that “fashionable female 18-25” filling her basket with the Spring Collection may also be a busy mother spending big on children’s books with a passion for eating out in her spare time. 

These people are hard to track because their data is scattered across different channels and profiles. Which means your biggest-spending customer may never have heard a warm word from you, despite you knowing she’s in there somewhere.

This is a key problem for retailers today. All the data’s in there, but it’s fragmented and scattered – a veritable buried treasure hiding in platforms and spreadsheets throughout your business and no X marks the spot. 

That’s where identity resolution comes in. You may also have heard it termed entity resolution, identity mapping, and record linkage. 

Coming up with a solution to unify your customer profiles is potentially costly and laden with risk when undertaken in-house. Identity resolution is a complex data problem that needs expensive people, skills outside your core competencies, and long lead times while data is analysed and requirements documented. 

Fortunately, it’s a problem Distil can help with. And we’re pretty good at it because we’ve been doing it for years. 

As part of the Distil Customer Data Platform (CDP), which provides customer data insights to over 800 businesses and ecommerce stores worldwide, identity resolution happens as part of the single customer view, which unlocks your individual customer profiles. 

With this knowledge, you can do any number of awesome things that will positively impact their customer experience – as well as positively affect customer retention, lifetime value, average order value and many other exciting commercial outcomes. 

So, let’s delve into identity resolution a bit further.

Who are your best customers, really?

Just as the customer journey begins long before a purchase, identity resolution ideally starts with the people who aren’t your customers yet.

Here’s a thought experiment: 

What if every human being in the world had a unique number that identified them, so whenever that person popped up on the web or the real world, their various transactions could be seen as part of the same record?

Most governments do this with their citizens, like America’s Social Security Number or the UK’s National Insurance number. But marketers don’t have the same opportunity to label everyone at birth, and arguably nor should they. Using those other bits of information isn’t straightforward when this is what they look like:

You might think your full name is enough, but what if a customer uses both her maiden name and married name frequently? Or fills in web forms as Charlotte Smith, Charlotte J Smith, and Lottie Smith? And of course there’s likely to be more than one C Smith out there.

How about an address? Postcodes do give a clue. But customers can use both home and work addresses for deliveries, or may have a PO Box only, or may be students who have one address during the school year and another in the holidays. Not to mention those with short term tenancies or temporary accommodation that changes often. Addresses aren’t as useful or as permanent as you might think.

Even a phone number isn’t unique. Most new British residential numbers have been someone else’s number previously. The same is true of many mobile numbers. And people often change numbers when they switch networks or move house. 

There are problems with account numbers. Confusion between similar names is the problem account numbers solve: it doesn’t matter if you have twenty customers called C Smith, as long as each has their own account number. The trouble here, though, is that an account number is specific to a single company and sometimes a specific technology platform employed by the business. And if a customer doesn’t remember previous account details, they’ll create a new one. Consequently,  a single individual may have hundreds of them.

And user website activity, too. Since the earliest days of e-commerce, devices and websites have tracked users by dropping a cookie in their browser, unbeknownst to them at first – now it’s (slightly) clearer for a user to opt-in to accept cookies or not as they choose. Even if they fill in one form as Charlotte and another as Lottie, that unique identifier is glued to their browser behaviour. But cookies are browser specific and only last for as long as the user doesn’t clear their cookies. 

Customer journeys twist and turn throughout your channels

As customers do more in your ecosystem – engage more on your website, interact with your marketing, and purchase more products – the more data points they create. Identity resolution isn’t a one-off event, but an ongoing process over time. And it never stops. 

Even while you sleep, the machine learning behind the Distil CDP is working tirelessly to connect new behaviours, attributes, patterns and data points together. The AI will estimate the most reliable data to apply to the customer record. The more data that comes in, the greater the reliability of those predictions. 

The goal is to make sure wherever the customer pops up and whatever they’re doing, they’re correctly identified. The right individual using the correct tracking identifier and that there’s a single customer record for them. 

That’s why the primary data record in Distil’s technology is called a customer. Because they might not be your customer yet – but they’re somebody’s. And that’s who your customer is, really. Not a number in your database, but a real person out there in the real world.

Better marketing ROI, better personalisation, because better data

Of course, the engineering complexity behind Distil’s identity resolution process is considerable. But it means the outcome for you as an ecommerce manager, marketer or store owner is elegant simplicity. Because of what it delivers to you, and the impact it can have on your business.  

The more data that gets connected, the more complete the picture of each individual customer. And therefore, the more insights and inferences you can use to tailor your customer experience to maximise your sales and profits. 

We’ve all had offers over Black Friday from websites we bought from last year having given no buying signals for this year. But the benefit of identity resolution is that it lets you match your marketing activity to each individual’s preferences. So you can decide on the appropriate messaging for those who became loyal customers since last year versus the annual bargain hunters. 

Let’s say two customers are buying women’s gymwear. 
You notice (or rather, Distil tells you) that one always buys the season’s colours and fashions. The moment she notices everyone’s wearing green, her wardrobe is a sea of avocado and chartreuse. But the other customer is more wait-and-see. She always visits your site at least three times before purchasing, putting different items in her basket and taking them out just as often. She doesn’t follow fashion, but instead buys on function, looking for sportswear worn by top athletes with money no object.

Both customers are valuable. But while the first will love your weekly CRM email on hot trends, the other may be turned off. The time to contact the latter is after that third site visit … when a small discount offer may nudge her to buy even more. 

Or, how about gourmet fruit juices? 
You notice your regular purchasing customer, Jemima, hasn’t bought her usual weekly fruit juice order when she would usually have restocked by now. Maybe you should check in with an offer at the same time as asking for her feedback? You can actively prevent her churning if she’s had a negative experience providing it’s well handled – and that’s one less new customer you need to acquire.

Or if Alex is a big spender on Sunday afternoons, you could be top of mind with a killer offer at Sunday lunch time, so you’re in his Inbox at just the right moment. 

Or, identify the target audience for your new product launch
You’re about to launch a new eastern-inspired meal prep kit in your store, and you don’t know who the target audience is for the launch strategy or which channel to find your customers on that will most likely generate a purchase. 

But in your consolidated customer profiles thanks to identity resolution, you can see exactly who has purchased and repurchased from your noodle and sushi ranges previously. Not to mention your customers who like it spicy hot! Plus which marketing channels they prefer to buy through. 

These are just a handful of the countless sales-boosting ideas reliable identity resolution can do for any ecommerce website. And the more data you have, the more ideas it’ll give you.
Finding top customers starts with identity resolution

Identity resolution is part of a strong customer data philosophy

We’re interested – in fact, obsessed – by understanding customer data, and helping our users build their businesses by making better use of it. Identity resolution is the key to discovering who your top customers are, and making sure they stay that way, by treating them as the valuable individuals they are. 

It stops wasteful overmarketing, turns fragmentation into segmentation, and adds value at every point in the customer journey. And the more accurate that single view of each customer is, the more value we can offer and the better your business performance will be.

There’s no downside to doing it. So what’s the next step?

It’s to have a chat with us here at Distil. We won’t talk about identity resolution – much. What we’ll talk about is how our customers understand shoppers, nudge positive behaviour, optimise resources for greater ROI. 

Your business is our business, after all. And we’d like our vast and deep pool of data to benefit you.